Carnaval in Brazil: DEFINITELY the Best Place to Be a Man

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Brazil is totally crazy during carnival! 4 cities, 10 days, and 63 girls. I learned to dance samba, lambazouk, sertanejo universitario, and arrocha. Does it get any cooler than that? The trip was unreal. I got a chance to visit Brazil a year ago and absolutely loved the country, the carnival, and the people. Back then, I attended the famous carnival in Rio de Janeiro and was hanging out in Sao Paulo area. This year I decided to do pre-carnival in Rio, carnival in Salvador, after-carnival in Porto Seguro, and dance classes in Sao Paulo. First, you will read about my adventures. Next, lessons learned (e.g., how to kiss many girls during carnival). Enjoy!

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Wednesday

My flight to Rio was rather long. First, Boston to New York, then to Sao Paulo, and then finally Rio. Very tiresome trip. As I was waiting in New York to board the plane, I already had a feeling that the trip will be great. Brazilian girls were giving me noticeable looks and were approaching me/brushing my arms to make sure that I notice them. It quickly brought back my memories from the previous trip. They like my looks, it’s no secret. I like that they are straightforward, it’s no secret.

Thursday

I got to Rio around noon. Time is money, however. Immediately after checking-in at the hostel, I went to visit the Sugarloaf mountain. It is a famous landmark of Rio. The view from there over the city is stunning.

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Here are some tips that can save you some money. What people call the Sugarloaf mountain consists of the actual Sugarloaf mountain and Urca hill. First, the best view is from the (lower) Urca hill just before the sunset. Typically, people take the cablecar to visit the mountain. Although the cablecar is necessary to visit the Sugarloaf, you can climb the Urca hill on foot. Further, if you leave the mountain after 7pm, the cablecar ride is free.

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After visiting the mountain, I came back to the hostel to make myself ready to party. As last year, I started the night off with a couchsurfing meeting. It’s a great event where you get the opportunity to mingle with international folks. Interestingly, not everyone is there for the carnival. I got my first Brazilian caipirinha this year and met some Russian girls who are now living in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, I had to leave the meeting early, because I scheduled a samba dance class at 9pm.

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The class was a bit delayed (Brazilian time). As I was waiting for the class, I met a cute girl working there as a receptionist. I guess, she quickly realized that I’m a gringo. She didn’t speak English. My Portuguese terribly deteriorated. We chatted using Google translate and exchanged contacts very quickly.

The samba class eventually started. It was a lot of fun. The teacher, Max, was very effective. He showed us samba and some forro moves. After the class we went to the largest and the most famous samba club, named Scenarium. It wasn’t easy to practice the new moves, but, in the end, it was a good pre-carnival night that warmed me up before all the forthcoming craziness of carnival.

Friday

That was the day when I went on a free walking tour in Rio de Janeiro. On the one hand, the tour was very informative and we got to learn a lot about Brazilian history. On the other hand, it felt like going back in time. Last year I was staying at Lapa (Rio’s party district). This is where we were hanging with the tour. I was a bit tired after the previous day but somehow recovered later with more caipirinhas. Soon I discovered that the best caipirinhas are with passion fruit and kiwi.

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In the evening I went to a bloco (street party) at Gloria. We were supposed to meet up with Fred, a very cool dude whom I met at a bloco party last year. Unfortunately, due to problems with my phone we were unable to find each other. Fortunately, we were able to meet up later at a private party. Getting into the private party wasn’t as easy as I expected. You see… in Brazil many buildings are heavily guarded. I needed to talk to the guard so that he opens the gate and allows me to enter. The guy didn’t speak English and had no idea what I wanted. Initially, he didn’t open the door. I quickly spotted three girls with a dog. They were going to one of bloco parties. One of the girls looked like a middle higher class Brazilian. Very cute. I was sure she speaks English. I asked for help. She smiled (Brazilian girls have fantastic smiles!) and dealt with the guard. I was on my way to the party. Straight from the party we went to Fred’s club. He introduced me to many people. Brazilians are very friendly and they love gringos. Many people wanted to talk to me. At the club I got a chance to improve my arrocha skills thanks to Fred’s girlfriends. The night was another good event to get ready for Salvador, my next stop.

Friday

The legendary carnival in Salvador is also the biggest party in the world. It attracts over 2mln people! That’s where I was heading. Getting there from Rio takes two hours by air. I must say that the airline TAM, that I was flying with throughout my trip in Brazil, has the most beautiful personnel I have seen. Well done TAM. As I was waiting for the plane, I wrote a bunch of postcards. Nice collection, eh?

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I made it to Salvador. I took a cab from the airport to my couchsurfing host, Flavio. The ride took two hours. On the way, the driver was playing my favorite Brazilian music sertanejo. I said I like it and he gave me the CD he was playing. Thanks dude! During the ride, I could see incredible crowds everywhere on the streets. I felt like I belong to this place! We finally arrived at Flavio’s apartment. He was a fantastic host and had over ten international folks there! Everyone was already in the party mode.

After a short pre-party, we went to the actual carnival in Barra. That’s the circuit where all the cool, young, and beautiful people hang out. We were instructed to go out with empty pockets, because pickpocketing is common. For that reason you won’t see many pictures from the actual carnival. I left my phone at the apartment. Use your imagination and let it fill in all the missing details.

The carnival can be enjoyed in three ways:

  1. Camarote. A closed area with tribunes from where you merely observe the carnival. It is the most secure, most expensive, and most boring way of experiencing the carnival. Typically, you’d see older crowd there. All you do is just watching.
  2. Bloco. It is a semi-closed street party that slowly moves along a 5km-long street. Each bloco consists of two monstrous trucks with live bands. There are ropes between the trucks that mark the bloco area.  It is guarded by tens or hundreds of (typically poor) people. Inside the bloco everyone is dancing and having fun. To get into a bloco, you need to buy an abada (t-shirt). The good thing is that it’s pretty safe inside blocos and you meet up people who are wealthy enough to afford an abada.
  3. Pipoca (popcorn). The cheapest option. You follow blocos but you’re outside the marked area. In principle, you party next to the party. That way you can enjoy the carnival without paying for it. The downside of pipoca is that you should be very careful, because fights occur often. If that happens, try to get away from the area. It does become dangerous. Military police quickly gets into action and they beat everyone. These guys have bad faces, never smile, and are very aggressive. Almost as if they wanted to provoke fights. It is important that in pipoca you don’t do sudden body movements and you’re not stiff. Just keep dancing and be loose.

Flavio knows how to roll during the carnival. We didn’t buy abadas, so we were doing pipoca. At first we were just observing, chatting, and walking around. Soon I learned that an important tradition in Salvador is to kiss girls. The more beautiful girls, the better. And Salvador was chalk-full of them!

At the beginning I wasn’t sure how to operate. I looked a bit confused, because it was my first night in Salvador. Juliede, Flavio’s housemate asked if I’m shy or something. Then, without much thinking, I spotted a beautiful blond Brazilian girl, got my shit together, and approached her. How? First, established eye contact (Brazilian girls do that all the time), then smiled, and said that she is beautiful. Before I said anything else, she already grabbed me and we were making out. How cool is that? Later I learned that she’s from the south of Brazil – this is where you can meet blondes. 

After the first approach, something clicked in my brain. Since then I was approaching all the girls that I liked. Blondes, brunettes, girls with mothers (of course you want to go for the daughter), girls alone, and in groups. Few of them said no. Brazilian girls seem to be very comfortable with men approaching them (unlike girls, e.g., in Canada). Oftentimes, girls were grabbing my hand or my face to kiss me. Things quickly got more crazy. There was a group of three girls. I kissed the three of them at the same time. In our couchsurfing group we had one French guy, Guillaume. He is extremely fun and cool. He was an expert when it comes to approaching mothers with daughters. He was pretty effective at that. Once, it was entertaining to see how a mother was preventing him from making out with her teen daughter. Another time there were two girls. He started talking to the better looking one. Then he said I’m from France (with a French accent). When the other girl heard that, she smiled and was giving huge thumbs up to the better looking one. One second later, Guillaume was making out with the lady. He’s legendary!

The night was very long. We ended up the night dancing in the rain. It was extraordinary! During the first night, I kissed 17 beautiful girls in total. I was pretty happy about the result. Now, the important thing is that I genuinely appreciated each and every girl that I kissed. Each had something unique in her. It’s a beautiful thing when two strangers meet up and make out before chatting. That’s the Brazilian way. Very sexy and intriguing. Chatting before kissing, on the other hand, kills the vibe.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

After the first day I already knew that Salvador was my ultimate couchsurfing experience. We woke up around 3pm. We were getting ready to participate in a very traditional bloco of Filhos do Ghandi. That’s how you roll:

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What is this whole thing about? The bloco is a huge men-only parade. Girls love to follow the bloco (thanks for the tip, Teresa!). You walk around the circuits, sing, drink alcohol, dance, and spray the perfume. If you look at the picture, you can see that each man has beads on them. I had at least 30. The idea is that girls want to kiss you to get a bead. And that’s what you do: you kiss girls and give them the beads.

A very important remark here. I don’t know why, but some guys try to catch the girl by offering the bead first and only after would they go for the kiss. That’s super lame in my opinion. Why? I’ve seen it so many times that guys were trying to catch girls, but instead, the girls just took the bead and the guys got no kiss. What a waste. What you want to do is the opposite: first a very good kiss. Only if the kiss was good enough, offer her the bead and gently put it on her neck.

We were hanging out like that for three nights. Every day the schedule was the same: wake up, dress up, participate in the parade, kiss all the girls that you like, and party till early morning (6am at least).

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The perfume is of the smell of lavender. Most girls hate it, but it’s OK to spray it on them. Less attractive girls will ask you to spray the perfume on them if they cannot get a kiss. Also, poor guys who guard the ropes would be happy to smell like lavender.

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Each and every night I had some amazing kisses. Once it was a darker skinned girl who already had, maybe, ten beads (most girls would have one, maximum two). She was very beautiful. Flavio got us into a camarote and this is where I made out with her. Another day it was an unforgettable kiss with a Bahiana (a girl from Bahia). It was very soft, passionate, and gentle. Yet another one was with a girl whom I spotted in an abada. I pointed my finger at her so that she comes to me. She did the same to me. I wasn’t sure what to do, because I was doing pipoca and the rope was guarded. It wasn’t even a second while one of Flavio’s buddies yelled: GO!!! and forcefully pushed me under the rope. I quickly got underneath, caught the lucky girl, and she delivered a sweet kiss. In the meantime, the guards were trying to separate us and kick me out. Everyone was watching. Love is everywhere! I must say that Flavio’s buddies, who we were hanging with, are fantastic wingmen. They would help you to catch any girl. That’s the spirit!

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By the third day of Filhos do Ghandi my costume smelled horribly (I didn’t have time to wash it). What’s worse, last day there was no water in the apartment. The whole day I was pretty dirty and smelly. What would you do? Portuguese shower! (For some reason Brazilians call it French shower.) Use a lot of perfume and you’re good to go. And so we went. Again, we were kissing girls left and right. If the girl likes you, no matter how bad you smell, she’ll be happy to experience you during the carnival. But be careful, some girls feel bad when you don’t want to kiss them. Once I was approached by two very cute girls. After so many kisses I somehow didn’t care whether we make out or not. The two girls were right in my face staring at my eyes. I was looking at the live band. Then I looked at the girls and smiled, but turned to the band again. What happened then? She grabbed me by the balls and forcefully kissed in the cheek. I found it unexpected, yet entertaining.

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I know that the girls liked me a lot. Pretty much every girl that I kissed, and every that wanted to kiss me, said: que lindo! bonito! (how beautiful! nice!) It’s great to be a good looking guy in Brazil. When kissing so many girls, an important thing is to disinfect your mouth often. What do you do? Use vodka! It works like mouthwash and kills all the bacteria. As you dance and move a lot, you shouldn’t get drunk.

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Wednesday

That was my last day in Salvador. Huge thanks to Flavio, Ronaldo, and Guillaume for the fantastic couchsurfing and carnival experience. It was a pleasure to hang out with you guys!

There is no doubt that carnival in Rio is very different from the one in Salvador. Rio has a traditional carnaval with costumes, samba, small blocos. It’s pretty fun. Perhaps, the only more crazy place is Lapa where you can kiss some girls. It is nothing, however, compared to Salvador. That’s the ultimate experience. The party is humongous and it can be as crazy as you make it. Arguably, it attracts younger and better looking crowd. That’s where you meet cool Brazilians who love to party. The amount of parties is incredible. You see lots of famous Brazilian singers giving live shows from bigger-than-life trucks.

Going back to reality. I was sleeping almost the whole day. I couldn’t party anymore. In the evening we were chilling at the beach. I was also getting ready for my next stop: Porto Seguro. I had to wake up at 4:30am to get to the airport.

Thursday

I took the first flight in the morning to Porto Seguro. I had never heard about this place before, but Moises, one of my best Brazilian friends, recommended it. Porto Seguro is a small beach resort where Brazilians spend their vacations. What’s special about Porto Seguro? They host an after-carnival called Carnaporto Axe Moi. Moises said I would love it. I trust him with my life, so I went there.

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As soon as I got to Porto Seguro, I checked in at my hotel, did the laundry, and was off to lambazouk classes. Lambazouk is a very sexy type of dance that evolved from lambada. I booked four classes with Cleidson and Iara to make the most of my time in Porto Seguro.

I really enjoyed the lessons. Cleidson was also very helpful with getting my abada for Carnaporto. After the class I got back to the hotel to get some rest before Carnaporto.

I made it to the party around midnight. It was still early, because the show starts at 1am. As I went through the entrance, I got nine condoms from the service right away. I thought: alright, if they treat me like that, then the party must be good and crazy. Soon, more and more people were coming. The place is ready to host up to 20 000 people. Not sure how many came, but definitely thousands.

Getting into Carnaporto is not cheap. That means that you meet there gente bonita. Young, cool, beautiful, and upper middle class crowd. In fact, I have never seen so many beautiful girls at one place. Most of them are 18-25 years old. People were from major Brazilian cities, such as Rio, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo, and Porto Alegre. The ratio was fantastic. Perhaps, like two or three girls per guy. That’s Brazil and that’s what I like! The shows were really great and the girls were going crazy. On average, ten girls per hour approached me to kiss them. All I was doing was just standing there, dancing to the music, and smiling. If you’re a good looking man, do yourself a favor, and go there next year. As I’m thinking about it right now, it’s the best party to be a man. These girls need you haha. I have no idea what time the party ended, but at 7am I came back to my hotel room and I was not empty handed.

Friday

I was extremely tired after the whole night and the morning. Anyways, I needed to force myself to attend the lambazouk class. I guess, my teachers were not entirely happy with my condition, but what can I do? Life. When I came back from the class I just got to bed and was sleeping like a baby. Needed to wake up early to go to Sao Paulo. My last stop.

Saturday

I arrived to Sao Paulo around noon. Somehow, I wasn’t initially excited about this place. I don’t know… maybe it’s because of what I heard from Brazilians? Everyone says that it’s a business city, not a party place. My expectations were low. My only goal was to learn to dance the basics of sertanejo universitario. I went to the class pretty much straight from the airport. My teachers were from 7 Sentidos: Carla and Robeilton. They are amazing teachers. They were very quick to assess my skills and calibrate accordingly. I was extremely happy with the class. The two hour class seemed like five minutes.

I then needed to grab some food and came back to the hostel. Sao Paulo has lots of pretty girls. As it was Saturday, I was wondering whether they have a pubcrawl or some other cool events. Apparentely, Sao Paulo has an official pub crawl. I signed up for that, took a nap, and was good to go around 10pm.

The pub crawl takes place at Villa Madalena. The place was incredibly crowded; like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. People everywhere. Finally, I made it to the bar where everyone was meeting. It was an open-bar until midnight. Again, the female/male ratio was very good. I was being very sociable and met almost all of the girls. Brazilian girls really like to talk to you, are very easy going, and friendly.

Funny thing. At some point I met a girl from Seattle. Her “North American” attitude was horrible. So off the place. While Brazilian girls are happy and interested in you, the Seattle girl only replied with monosyllables. That only confirms my 4-year observation: European and South American girls are, generally, interested in guys and like them. North American girls (excluding Quebecers) prefer to hang out with other girls and expect the guy to babysit them. So unattractive, despite the fact that she was pretty good looking. I just told her she’s boring and moved on to more Brazilians.

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The pubcrawl was heading to the club. On our way, we were practicing arrocha with a very fun girl from Goiania. Again, I was very pleased about the ratio in the club. At least twice as many women as men. Lots of beautiful Brazilian girls who want to look their best. As I was waiting for a drink, a Brazilian girl approached me. What she was doing was pretty typical. She turned back to me, but was standing very close. She was brushing her hair and throwing it into my face. She was then checking with the corner of her eye whether I catch her. She was pretty, indeed, but my plan for that night was different.

Although the music was different, the party reminded me of the video Empinadinha. Lots of girls, lots of kissing. Jump to minute 2:00. Doing something like that is a piece of cake if she’s attracted to you (most of the time she is). You can kiss as many girls as you like.

After I got the drink I was approached by a girl with her friends from the pubcrawl. Maybe she was shy or something. They asked if I can kiss her. She had a leopard-print on her, so she scored a point. She was cute and small, so she got a small kiss. That night, though, I had only one goal. I wanted to kiss another lovely girl from the pubcrawl. She was 10 years younger than me, smart, and her English was very good. I rushed into the action.

I knew that she liked me, because she spotted me several times and raised her hand to grab her. Then the moment came.

me: I like you. I think you’re beautiful and I want to kiss you.
she: I’m not that type of girl.
me: I see what you’re saying. I like that.
she: I don’t kiss every guy in the club.
me: Are you saying you don’t want to kiss me? Don’t you like me?
she: I like, but all you can get is a selinho.
me: What’s that?
she: It’s a small kiss.
me: OK, let’s see

The kiss was indeed small. Maybe not even half second. I was really disappointed, because it was the first small kiss in Brazil. I couldn’t believe.

me: It sucks. What’s the point?
she: Well… it may lead to better things…

I really wanted to kiss that girl; no one else mattered that night. I decided to leave her for a while and was walking around the club. So many other girls were checking me out, but I didn’t do the action. I’m sure she could see that. I was dancing with other people for a while. Then, I went to the bar and got my favorite caipirinha: with passion fruit. I came back to the selinho girl.

me: You see, so many girls wanted to make out with me. I didn’t do that. I don’t care about them. I care only about you tonight. [I was sincere about it and handed in the caipirinha]

We chatted for a while. Suddenly, she pulled me to the side and delivered a proper kiss. It felt very good. She was my 63rd girl that I kissed within 10 days in Brazil. I liked her. She liked me. We were making out for at least three hours. In the background I heard divirta-se! (have fun!). Then she got us into a camarote (a restricted lounge area) for free. It was a perfect ending of my Brazilian adventures.

Sunday

I grabbed my stuff, took the cab, and went to the airport. I was semi-ready to fly back to the real world. Brazil is not the real world. It’s a paradise.

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Lessons Learned

Carnaval in Rio vs Salvador vs Porto Seguro?

Rio: big, traditional, colorful, famous, laid-back

Salvador: huge, crazy, cool, unreal

Porto Seguro: small, cool, young crowd, intense, sexy

Thoughts on Safety?

Personally, I had no problems in Brazil. There are several rules, however, that I was trying to stick to: 1) whenever possible, hang out in a group of friends; 2) avoid dark places; 3) in Salvador, empty your pockets or keep only the belongings that you are ready to give away; 4) visit only reputable districts; and 5) be cautious at all times. During the street carnival I didn’t wear any jewellery. Other times, I had no problem with it. I noticed that many Brazilians wear watches (they love huge watches) and carry cell phones. I was doing the same.

Who to Hang out with?

It depends on your purpose. If you don’t care about girls, then hanging out with anyone will do the job. If you like girls, however, things are more complicated.

It’s best to have a mixed group of local and international dudes. First, you can learn a lot from Brazilians. Also, international dudes, like myself, are a good company as long as they wing you. Brazilian girls are also OK, because they understand the tradition and they are cool with kissing.

Avoid hanging out with international girls. Simply, you don’t bring sand to the beach. They won’t help you with getting more girls. What’s worse, they may get jealous; which only causes drama. That’s the last thing that you need during the carnival. Apart from the carnival, love them and hang out with them often!

Thoughts on Brazilian Girls?

Moises once said: God was really generous in that matter with Brazil. Personally, I think they are amazing. They are genuine, warm, sexy, treat you like a king if you’re serious about them. They are honest and straightforward, so you don’t need to play any games with them. If they like you, they’ll tell you that very quickly. They are very open about their feelings. On the other hand, it’s easy to hurt them (I was guilty of that in the past). If you do that, she’ll never forgive you. Brazilian girls like men and they know how to get men’s attention. I got the impression that they always try to look their best. Finally, they are great sensual dancers and great lovers (that often goes together).

For Guys, Are Looks Important in Brazil?

I’m almost sure that good looks help immensely. Many Brazilian girls love blond guys with blue eyes, because it’s so rare there (besides the south).

Communication: English vs Portuguese?

I’d say that, initially, it’s better to speak English. She’ll understand the basics. You can switch to Portuguese later. She’ll be more excited by an exotic gringo. Alternatively, you can just say in Portuguese: nao falo portugues, so beijar (I don’t speak Portuguese, only to kiss). Worked for me every time.

How to Kiss Girls During the Carnival So that Both Parties Enjoy it?

A kiss may tell you something about the person. So, if you like the girl, do it well. This is what I found optimal (romantic) after tens of street approaches.

  1. Be brave, direct, carefree, and charming.
  2. Make strong eye contact. If she maintains the eye contact, she’s interested. Otherwise, move on to the next girl.
  3. Smile and approach her, or pull her by her hand, or do whatever it takes so that she faces you. Always maintain eye contact.
  4.  (optional) Slowly ask if she speaks English, ask about her name, say she’s beautiful or that she’s got beautiful eyes, or whatever you honestly like about her. Don’t say anything else. In the meantime put your hands on her arms and gently slide down.
  5. Gently brush off her hair from her pretty face with one hand. Put the other hand on her back and pull toward you.
  6. Start kissing her slowly and gently. Hold her head with the hand that you used to brush off her hair.
  7. Now, you’re on your own, buddy. Repeat that 50 times and you’ll get many compliments on how great you can kiss.

I found it important to be smooth, i.e., speak slowly and move gently. There are two reasons: 1) she may not speak English well; 2) you give her the time to see that you’re a different guy. In general, girls are approached all the time. Obviously, she cannot kiss every guy, so, by default, she’s not willing to kiss. That way you give her a chance to change her mind so that she wants to kiss you. Furthermore, body contact is crucial. Brazilians are very comfortable with touching.

When to Kiss Girls?

Pretty much any time is good. Perhaps, night is best as the girls get loose and wild. Depending on how selective you are, you can kiss as many girls as you like. If you kiss 500 girls, I’d say well done, bro, but I won’t be shocked. Also, if you like the girl, she likes you, and all the logistics are in order (or she makes them so!), there should be no problem with taking her home.

How to Handle Girls that You Don’t Want to Kiss?

At times girls want to kiss you despite the fact that you’re not attracted to them. Lack of eye contact will typically resolve the issue. If she’s persistent, then there are two ways. A less graceful way is to say you’ve got a girlfriend, point to a random beautiful girl, and kiss that other girl. Another way (let’s call it the French way), proposed by Guillaume, is to lift her hand, spin around, and throw away like a bowling ball haha. She’ll keep going.

Intrinsic vs Purposeful vs Mission-Driven Traveling

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What is your style of exploring the world? Do you prefer to plan or you go with the flow? Normally, I would just get excited about a place and would go there. It’s cool to be carefree and spontaneous. There are, however, two main drawbacks of traveling without any plan: 1) missing out on unique opportunities, and 2) wasting time on figuring out what to do next. I contemplated various reasons for planning and I would like to share them with you. I also advocate for experimenting with mission-driven traveling.

This week I spent a little bit of time planning some of my trips for the upcoming year.  Then I realized that the style of traveling is related to motivation, i.e., figuring out why you want to travel to a specific destination. Have you ever heard of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? Let’s take a look at definitions from Wikipedia:

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward.

Extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, whether or not that activity is also intrinsically motivated.

Let’s link the two definitions with the two styles of traveling; we end up with:

  1. Intrinsic traveling (going with the flow). If you travel for the sake of traveling, then you are intrinsically motivated. You simply enjoy the process of exploring new places and you don’t care much about specific stuff to see there. For example, when I went to Barcelona, I was enjoying the city a lot and didn’t bother to see the famous church of Sagrada Familia. For majority of tourists, on the other hand, this is a must-see venue.
  2. Purposeful traveling (planning trips). If you travel to see a specific place or to perform a specific activity, then you are extrinsically motivated. You care about the location, because it offers something unique that is unavailable in other locations. For example, if you go to Paris to see the Eiffel tower and take a selfie there, then that’s the source of your motivation.

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I think that most of my travels, so far, have been mostly intrinsically motivated. I loved the activity of exploring new places, regardless of whether it was Paris or a shithole in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps, the only extrinsic motivation was to meet people and party in each and every place. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun. On the other hand, I spent a lot of time searching for cool people and interesting activities. Unfortunately, many unique (e.g., artistic) activities turned out to be unavailable, because I didn’t schedule them in advance.

Now, I think that a little bit of planning may make traveling more meaningful and may help to maximize the richness of experience. It can certainly help to take advantage of the unique things that the place offers. I’d say even more, you can use it to get immediate benefits. You can acquire or upgrade some of your existing skills. Let me give you some examples:

Place Venue Skill
Dominican Republic Dance school Bachata
Brazil Carnival Kissing
Fiji, Aruba Beach Scuba diving
Japan Local artist Origami
Portugal Summer camp Surfing
Italy Local artist Painting

The idea of purposeful traveling can be taken even further: you can go to a place to focus solely on a single activity. For example, you can go to Dominican Republic for two weeks to master bachata skills; dance lessons, 12 hours a day, every day, to supercharge your skills. I would call this extreme mission-driven traveling.

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This year I would like to try this approach. Before going to some place, I would be clear about my goals and would design a mission. Ideally, it should be somehow measurable to validate whether I’m making good progress. Of course, the schedule cannot be completely rigid, as it may make traveling less enjoyable. It seems that the best is to have a default plan, but be flexible as new opportunities show up.

Want to Travel More? Internalize This Simple Habit

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I like to have conversations about traveling. This topic gives me great insights into some else’s personality, their viewpoint, and daily struggles (pains). Throughout the years, I was able to discover certain patterns from the discussions. These patterns may classify the set of people into several groups:

  • Adventurers. Wherever they go, it is always fun to be around them. They have unique stories and are not afraid of taking risks. You won’t hear lame excuses from them. Typically, they are very energized and exciting people. Their life is one big adventure. I would say it’s a very small group of people; perhaps, less than 1% of all the travelers I met.
  • Travelers. Nice people to be around. They’ve been to many countries and often travel for months or years. They appear as more normal than adventurers and have more self-preservation instincts. They have some interesting stories, yet the discussions in hostels are almost always the same: generic travel-related stuff. You can meet quite a few travelers.
  • Business travelers. They travel, because it’s part of their job. They are well-traveled, but do not interact with other travelers. I have never heard crazy stories from these people. My guess is that their travels are as exciting as their jobs. It’s a pretty big group of people.
  • Tourists (i.e., occasional travelers). They typically travel once a year, and, unnecessarily, spend a lot of money. Tourist destinations is where they head to and where they take pictures that you can later see on Facebook. Due to lack of experience, they are not very open to other people. Often, they are scared of the world and prefer to hang out with their travel-buddies. They would love to travel more, but they think they cannot. This is a huge group of people.
  • Non-travelers. They don’t travel, either because they feel no desire or they think they cannot. As visiting domestic spots (for pleasure) counts as traveling, this is a very small group.

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Where do you think you fit into? Where would you like to find yourself? Let me focus on tourists here. It’s always the same story:

tourist: I want to travel, but I cannot, because of X, Y, Z.

where X = work/school, Y = I have no money, Z = I’m afraid of traveling alone.

In our previous posts, we already addressed these issues. If you constantly rely on these excuses, then there is something messed up with your priorities. Maybe it’s time to fix them? I cannot do the hard work for you, but I suggest one inspirational habit: dream more. This is how it goes:

  1. Check out the world map. Feel free to use maps available online, on your smartphone, tablet, or put a huge map on the wall in your room.
  2. Pick one destination. If you could go anywhere, right now, where would you go? What is it that you’d love to experience at that destination?
  3. Search. Search for images and videos (e.g., on YouTube) from the destination.
  4. Read. Go to Wikipedia and Wikitravel to read about the destination and the local culture.
  5. Get yourself pumped up. Think about all the cool activities that you could be doing there.
  6. Stop dreaming and make it happen. Make a strong commitment to save money for your travel. Save 10% of your budget every month. It won’t hurt your budget too much, yet you’ll be able to travel to most destinations in the world (Antarctica may be more expensive, but there are other ways to get there!).

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Is dreaming a strong-enough motivator for you? It worked for me. For example. As a PhD student I had to live on a student budget for four years. Sure, I could have got a car, a better apartment, an expensive bike, or any other thing, like some of my peers. I decided not to. Instead, I spent all my savings on traveling. To me, it’s not a numbers game, but numbers talk to people: I was able to visit almost 30 countries on 3 continents, and 15 provinces/states in North America. Some of my friends are better-travelled. None of them is a millionaire, but they do have dreams and a list of places that they want (and will) visit. Why don’t you make one?

Mueve Tu Culito when in Puerto Rico!

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In the end of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. I moved to the USA recently, so it’s never been part of my tradition. Traveling, however, is a part of my tradition! When the weather gets cold and rainy, what can be better than going on mini-vacations in the Caribbean? Anyone? Instead of spending five days in the rainy New England, I decided to visit Puerto Rico (from Spanish, Rich Port). Curious how it’s been? Join my adventure and let’s go back in time!

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Thursday

Right after midnight, my flight departed from Boston to San Juan. Although it was before Thanksgiving, the airport was pretty empty at that time. The TSA folks were nice and smiling (for the first time?). They seemed to really like my clockwork necklace. After a four-hour flight, we arrived to San Juan. As I left the airport, I saw lots of palm trees so I couldn’t help myself and had to share pictures with some of my international friends.

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Early morning, the air was very humid and the wind was mild. It was very pleasant to be outside. Right away, I started walking towards the bus stop. My first hostel emailed to me a map with precise directions on how to get to the hostel. They recommend taking a bus. It turned out, however, that during holidays busses don’t serve the airport. Cab was my best bet and 20 minutes later we made it to the hostel.

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It was some time around 6am. I was hungry. I was walking around and looking for food. The area itself (Hipodromo) wasn’t very pretty. In fact, it was a working class district with many abandoned buildings. I thought to myself that it’s really great. How else can you get the taste of local adventure?

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When I finally found a restaurant, everyone was asking:

Waitresses: Guy, what are you doing here? This is not a tourist area.

Me: I realized that. I’m not a tourist, though. I’m an adventurer :-)

I asked for a sandwich. They eat a lot of pork in Puerto Rico, so I asked for a mega-portion of pork meat, vegetables, and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Not a bad start of the day.


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It took me several hours to explore the area. I visited the local market, Walmart, cultural venues, and found a post office. Hipodromo, an area of San Juan, is rich in cool murals. Just take a look at them.  They are beautiful and creative.

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Walking with a backpack wasn’t very convenient. I went to the hostel to leave my stuff and to see what cool people are staying there. Guess what? I met three Polish people: two sisters and one traveler. The sisters came from New York City. The traveler guy took some time off in his life and was traveling around the Caribbean for three months. It was good to see these folks, but papa lives a fast life. It was time to move on and to explore the old town.

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I like walking. Instead of taking the bus, I was wandering for two hours before I made it to the old town. First, I passed by the beach with fantastic palm trees. I crossed a long modern bridge and turned left instead of going straight. I ended up in a pretty nice port area.

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After exploring the port area, I went back (in time) and headed toward the old town; going along the coast line. I got to a well-maintained area with a christmas tree (how cool is it to have a christmas tree in the Caribbean???). The area was full of people and acrobatic activities.

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I forgot that Puerto Rico is in a different time zone than Boston. It got darker earlier than I expected. When I arrived in the old town, it was already night. Interestingly, they use lights of a very warm color there.

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The midnight after the Thanksgiving day is a very special one. It is the beginning of  Black Friday, a day full of crazy deals. The tradition is that folks go to stores to buy cheap TVs, clothes, screwdrivers, etc. It sometimes happens that people are aggressive and fight. I really wanted to see that happening this year. Unfortunately, the crowds in San Juan were very calm and there wasn’t much action. Unlike somewhere in Texas:

Friday

Not so early in the morning, I went to the old town to see how it looks like by day. Friday was completely different from the previous day. Streets were lively and crowded. The weather wasn’t great. Apparently, it rains a lot in San Juan. The weather is very changeable. It may rain multiple times during the day and yet it may be also sunny. The old town is fairly compact and features a few interesting spots, such as the Governor’s house, Haitian cultural shop, and dozens of restaurants. Culture is definitely one of the stronger points of Puerto Rico.

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San Juan is famous for its 16th century Hispanic fortifications. One of the fortresses, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, is located by the shore. It is surrounded by a large field of grass. On the west side, you can see a cemetery and a chapell. It was the first cemetery, that I’ve seen, located on the sea shore. Perhaps, you guys can bury me there when I die.

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The whole Puerto Rican adventure started, in fact, over a year ago. Do you remember how Gzowski Club went to Europe for Eurocup? Our last stop was Lisbon. After a crazy pub-crawl night we met Kiki and Jon. It turned out that they are from Puerto Rico. I promised that I would visit them some day… and that day has come. Kiki came to San Juan and she was being a fantastic tour-guide (after I learned everything about San Juan :-)). I’m really grateful that she found the time to hang out and to educate about the island.

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We were walking around and catching up with the news from each other. We went to several shops, I commented on cats being very small and cute and Puerto Rico, and finally went to get a dinner. I relied on Kiki, since she knows what the truly local food is. We were supposed to wait only 7 minutes. It was a pretty long wait; more like 47 minutes. As for food, I remember some local delicacies, such as mofongo, churrasco, pasteles, and pina colada. I’m a big boy, but it was more food than I could take.

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Once the dinner was over, we agreed that we need more action. Kiki got ready, papa got ready, we got coquito (a sweet coconut beverage), and we were on our way to a salsa party. In the club we met Kiki’s new international friends from Germany and some other girls who were visiting Puerto Rico. The night was a good time to practice salsa and to experience local nightlife.

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Saturday

I had never been to a rain forest. Visiting one was my priority when visiting Puerto Rico. Kiki picked up the German girls and papa, and we all went to El Yunque – the rain forest. The day was super-rainy, even according to the locals. Our first stop was around a stand with coconuts, food, and souvenirs.

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The rain forest was very green and was full of palm trees. Noticeably, the leaves of plants were very firm, almost plastic. We took a trail to see some remarkable waterfalls. The trail wasn’t very long, yet some of the views were very unique: hills, valleys with palm trees, wild river, and sounds of birds.

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On our way back the radio was playing latino hits. Most notably, Bailando Por Ahi by Juan Magan, Ai Se Eu Te Pego by Michel Telo, and Tacata by Tacabro. If there is one thing to remember from this blog post, it’s mueve tu culito, tacata!

It was raining all the way from the rain forest to San Juan. Finally, we made it to my new hostel where I met very cool fellow travelers from the US. A couple of hours later, Kiki joined us after she fixed her hair. We all went to a party in the old town. Pitbull, salsa, bachata, and reggaeton. You name it, we did it. It doesn’t get any better than this. Kiki had a little surprise: coquito made with pitorro – a glocally made rum. Delectable and comfortably strong. Enough to say that the night was long and we took a break around 5am. That was also the time when Christian went straight from the party to the airport. How COOL is that? A party plane to Haiti, anyone?

Sunday

The day started pretty late. We went on a tour to the famous Bacardi distillery. Getting to the distillery takes a while. First, you take a boat from San Juan, and then a cab. We made it to the last tour that day. The nice thing about the distillery is that they give you coupons for free Bacardi drinks. Guess what happened? We got our drinks and forgot about the tour. It started without us.

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Having realized that, we asked them to give us a ride to catch up with the rest of the group. Fortunately, it was not a big deal and we were dropped off at the distillery. The guide was talking about a long history, pirates, showed a movie, showed the equipment, historical materials, different types of rum, and we got a lesson of mixology. Cool tour! The tour finished with more free drinks.

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Monday

Traditionally, I woke up late. Sadly, it was my last day in Puerto Rico. My flight was scheduled at 7pm so I had the whole day to appreciate palm trees in San Juan. I sent some postcards and went to the areas that I hadn’t explored earlier.

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It was a sunny and beautiful day. It later turned out that my flight was delayed. The pilots didn’t show up the airport (due to a party?).

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The whole trip was only 5 days, but we’re here for a good time, not for a long time. Puerto Rico is a nice place with warm and smiling people. Everyone looks into your eyes and smiles. Nobody seemed to be afraid of strangers. Cosa buena. I’m grateful for all the people who contributed to the trip. In particular, thanks to Kiki!

Extra Travel Tips

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Greetings from France! I’m stuck at the Marseille airport as my flight is delayed for two hours. You got it, there is a strike of air traffic controllers. At least, I’ve got two hours to be productive and to write something interesting. I’ve already given tips for traveling in the three previous posts. Here, I’d like to add some more useful stuff.
  • Smell good without carrying perfumes. If you travel light, there is one major downside of carrying your own perfumes; they are typically in heavy bottles which add to the mass of your hand luggage. So, how to deal with that? At any airport you can find a duty-free store that carries perfumes. Go there, spray yourself, and ask for free samples. That way you can smell good for free. If you stay in the city, you can use the same tactic. Find some Sephora or any other store with perfumes. It’s guaranteed that you’ll find one in the shopping mall. Also, if you sweat a lot, get baking soda from any grocery store or pharmacy, and use it as an antiperspirant. Just apply the powder on your skin, for example, under armpits. Baking soda is very effective in fighting bacteria, cheap, non-toxic, light, doesn’t leave yellow stains, and can be carried in hand luggage.

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  • Smartphone. I’ve travelled with a laptop, tablet, and smartphone. From my experience, the only device that you’ll need while traveling is a good smartphone, such as Google Nexus 4 or Apple iPhone.
  • Say toilet. At least in Europe, don’t use the words washroom, restroom,  or bathroom. Many people don’t seem to get them. Toilet is universally understandable.
  • CouchSurfing got worse. The whole CouchSurfing project has changed; at least in three aspects. First, CS became a for-profit project which, I believe, has had an impact on the website and the users. Second, the CS website has a new layout which is very counterintuitive. Third, the most important, CS is no longer a community of like-minded travelers. In the past, you could send few requests and get answers promptly. People wanted to travel and to host travelers. These days, many people join CS just for free accommodation. Whereas they like to CouchSurf (because it’s free), few of them host people at their place.
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  • Pick a cool hostel. I’ve been to dozens of different hostels. Choosing a great hostel is not an easy task. For me, a great hostel is one that: 1) attracts young cool people, 2) is about partying, 3) is clean, 4) is cheap, and 5) is safe. There are multiple websites to search for hostels, such as HostelWorld. When searching, I sort the results by price and rating. Further, the opinions will give you a clue about the points 1-4. Additionally, the hostel description will tell you if the hostel offers lockers (important for safety) and free WiFi. The latter is pretty standard, though, WiFi may not work in all the rooms. Finally, I don’t care if the hostel offers any breakfast. Typically, I come back too late to wake up for the breakfast. Also, in the past, hostels offered more varied breakfasts. Nowadays, they offer mostly milk, cornflakes, crappy wheat bread, and fake jam. Pure carbs. It’s neither healthy, nor filling, and not very tasty when eaten daily. I’m off that.
  • Hotel is an option. I’m not a big fan of hotels. Typically, they are more expensive than hostels and you don’t get to meet many new people. Sometimes, however, there may be no hostels at your destination. What do you do then? Consider Airbnb or book a hotel room. Recently, I found great hotel deals on Cyprus through Booking.com (which was recommended to me by hotel stuff). They don’t charge booking fees.
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  • If got a student card, ALWAYS ask for student discounts. Sure, this tip doesn’t work too often, but when it does, you pay half of the price. For example, recently I scored a ticket from Paphos to Larnaca for 2e.

 

Traveling Is a State of Mind

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Why is it that for most people traveling is something they crave for, yet they do very little? Why do people associate traveling with something expensive? And even if they have money, why do they complain about lack of time to travel? Why do they think that traveling is a 2-3 week break during the year? Let’s challenge these ideas! I think that to travel you have to want to travel. It’s really about your state of mind.

 

First of all, I think that the above ideas are imposed on you by: 1) the travel industry, 2) the society, and 3) own laziness. Let’s be honest. Think about it: what holds you back right now from taking a break and going somewhere for a week? And I mean right now. If you could travel anywhere without any consequences, would you do that? Do you have what it takes to leave your house for a week? Or even for 2 days?
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Time. Let’s say your life-span is 80 years. That equals 4160 weeks. What happens if you decide to spend one of these weeks traveling? Think about the reasons for doing that now, instead of the reasons for not doing it. Do you really want to travel?

 

Money. You need to buy food. But you have to do that anyways, regardless of where you are.

 

Accommodation. Check out CouchSurfing. You can stay at someone’s place for a week. Or better, find 2-3 people who can host you. You pay $0.

 

Transport. Depending on where you wanna go, the cost may vary. Let’s say you’re broke as fuck. Perfect, check our hitch-hiking or car pooling. I met people who traveled all around Europe, America, and Asia that way. How much they paid? $0.

 

That’s all you need to start the journey. Well, almost. What you really need is a strong desire to make things happen.

 

Now, the key thing is that traveling is not so much about the location, but more about the state of mind. It doesn’t mean going to some remote island. You can go to a nearby town and enjoy traveling. I routinely do that when I visit Mississauga or Toronto. Set your mind into the travel mode. Stop for a while and think: how is your mindset different when you travel from your current state of mind? Take your time.
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For me the key difference is that when you travel you are in the absorb mindset. It’s a state of mind where you absorb incoming sounds, pictures, smells, feelings without prematurely judging them. You are just as curious as a small child for whom everything is new. For me the joy of traveling comes from: meeting new people, appreciating the architecture, learning the culture, getting into unexpected situations, and stepping out of my comfort zone. You can certainly have all of that in the nearby town. It’s the matter of paying attention to the details. Think about what you enjoy about traveling.
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You can even become a tourist in your own town. Why not to apply the same mindset to daily situations. Start looking at the things around you, change the usual route to school/work, talk to people about whatever comes to your mind. Isn’t the world more interesting then? Several months ago I even heard about a girl who was CouchSurfing in her own town!
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Now, go to a nearby city and see what’s cool there! OK, honestly, I’m almost sure that you will find excuses and will not do that. But remember, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Are you happy about it?

Brazil: Probably the Best Country to Be a Man

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One of my dreams came true: I visited Brazil. I wanted to visit this country for a long time. I met many Brazilians in Canada and really enjoyed their company. The story that you’re about to read includes a lot of fun, fantastic parties, and drama. Brazilian soap opera. It’s a rather personal account of events, so I’m deliberately avoiding people’s names. I’m also not going to put photos of people that I met, because I’m not sure if all of them are proud of what happened. Don’t get me wrong. Although some things didn’t work out, the whole trip was awesome!

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Wednesday

The journey started with a long flight from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro via Panama. Travel time: 14 hours. I made it to Rio around 2am and took a cab to my hostel. It was dark but I was curious about the city. I was carefully observing the surroundings from inside the car. My first impression was not too great, but I’m not judgmental. After half an hour the cab stopped at the address from hostel’s website. But where the hell is the hostel? Even the driver didn’t know. All we could see was a dumped building with old door. After a minute we figured out that it must be here, so I entered the building. Indeed, that was the hostel: hidden among other buildings in the Lapa district. I was very tired after traveling and quickly approached the reception desk. To my amazement I heard that my reservation was canceled. What the hell? Come on guys, I’m tired and I need to sleep. Fortunately, the guy let me sleep and we agreed to resolve all the issues the next day. The hostel required some deposit for the key. They didn’t accept credit cards and I had no banknotes. All I had was $20CAD and this is what I left at the reception desk. OK, the first impression was not too great. What does it mean? It means that things can only get better!

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Thursday
I woke up fashionably late and went out to explore Lapa. Lapa is also known as the party district of Rio. It was still before the Carnaval but the streets were full of people. I heard that Rio is dangerous so I wanted to disguise myself as a Brazilian. How? I was wearing Havaianas, famous Brazilian flip-flops.
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(Un)fortunately it didn’t work out. Many people were looking at me and knew for sure that I was a gringo. Looks-wise, I’m white with dark blond hair and blueish eyes. Women were giving me noticeable looks and smiles. I felt welcome! In the meantime I went to eat food per kilo, where you pay for food per weight. Delicious and cost-effective.
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After several hours of fooling around and meeting locals I went back to the hostel to resolve the issue. The issue turned to be a non-issue and we quickly settled the things. I took a shower and checked out what was cool that night. CouchSurfing had a meeting at Copacabana. As I was shaving, I met a Japanese guy. He asked me about my plans so I told him about the CS event. He joined me and we headed to the beach around midnight. What I saw was totally surprising. 350 CouchSurfers enjoying caipirinha at one of the bars. The meeting was huge! I quickly made some friends. At some point an Austrian girl was looking for people to swim in the ocean. I’ve got some experience with oceans by night and I couldn’t resist the urge. We were trying to get more people on board. The usual excuse was: I have no swimming suit. Well, fuck that. I didn’t have mine but it’s not a reason not to enjoy the beach. After several minutes we were running towards the ocean and jumped into a meter high waves. NOSSA! It was very cool to swim and fool around. We got back to the bar. Turned out that the adventure was just starting that night. I made some Spanish friends, put shorts on my wet pants and we took a cab to Lapa. My ass and the cab seat were totally wet. Lapa was full of people! The vibe was there and we hit some bars. I was desperately looking for a sertanejo party. After talking to several bartenders and shemales we made it to the club. I found it very very cool. To my amazement Brazilian girls are fantastic dancers. They really feel the rhythm and know how to make dancing very sexy.
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Friday
I woke up pretty late. Actually, I lost the sense of time. Initially I was heading to high-five Christ the Redeemer as CouchSurfers were hiking there. At some point I got hungry and went to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. The food was so delicious that I got late to the hiking event and went to see the Big Guy on my own. To my surprise, right after booking the ticket I met the Japanese guy from my hostel again. We both had reservations at 4pm. Cool, someone to hang out with. The statue is pretty big. Most of the people took pictures from the perspective imitating the Christ. I put it in the same category of cheesyness as supporting the leaning tower of Pisa with your hand.
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Friday was the first night of Carnival. I was hanging out with two other guys from the hostel. Good men. One of them was wearing the Spiderman suit. He got a lot of attention while walking around Lapa! The streets were very crowded. After hanging out for a while we met some crazy teenagers who where enthusiastic about anything we said:

 

teens: Where are you from?
me: Poland!
teens: Poland??? WOOOOHOOOOOO!

 

As mina pira. The girls wanted to kiss. Actually, the whole Carnaval is about international love. People make new friends, make out, and party everywhere in the streets 24/7. Wash, rinse, and repeat. I asked the teens to teach me forro, because it’s the kind of dance for the sertanejo music that I love. Not only they taught me forro, but also showed some samba and funky moves.

 

Saturday
Again, I woke up late. When I got out of the hostel I saw people partying since the very early morning. Everywhere in Lapa. It’s totally crazy to see thousands drunk people dancing samba, kissing, smiling, and singing. We were heading to a CS bloco party. The party was not bad. From what I remember the live band was playing Michael Jackson’s songs in the rhythm of samba. I was significantly tired that day after the previous night. After two hours we went back to the hostel, because I needed to rebook my flight. I was required to go to the airport and do it there. On my way to the airport I heard several times:

 

some gals: Lindo! Lindo!

 

It’s great to be a gringo in Brazil. Some of the girls approached and asked for a kiss. Other girls were more shy and were saying:

 

some gals: My friend would like to kiss you!

 

It was totally entertaining. I don’t see any of that happening in Canada any time soon. Also, I got the impression that while girls in Canada prefer to hang out with girls, girls in Brazil like to hang out with guys. I conclude that Brazil is probably the best country to be a man. Maybe it’s time to move to Brazil? Anyways, I later came back from the airport I took a nap. I woke up around midnight, met people from the hostel, and headed to the street parties.
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I have no idea how many people I met that night. We left the hostel with my buddies from the previous night and a couple. All of the sudden, I met the Spanish friends on the street who were with some Aussie girls. One of the girls was a blonde of Polish background so she earned a point. The girls were heading to the Sambodrom to dance at a platform. They had really cool outfit. In the meantime we went with the Spanish girl to get some vodka as I was thirsty. When we came back we met very cool Brazilian guys. One of them was fooling around with an Aussie girl. Her name was Izzy and he kept calling her Easy. I was amazed that I was able to hold a conversation in Portuguese for an hour or two. My Portuguese is very bad, but people could follow my thoughts. I started learning only 4 months ago. All the Brazilians were extremely friendly and receptive. Great people!

 

We were hanging around the whole night. The Brazilians took us to a funky party in an area that resembled favela. On the way I heard more: que lindo! Unfortunately this time it was said by a shemale. I’m not really into that kind of stuff. As I was talking to Brazilians in the street, they were also into sertanejo music. When I started singing Gatinha Assanhada, they were totally into it! What the hell, Polish guy, living in Canada, learning a little bit of Portuguese, and singing dirty songs in Brazil! Now, that’s cool!

Sunday
It was a lazy day. We went to Ipanema to a bloco party and to hike on the beach towards Copacabana. Ipanema was totally crowded and it was almost impossible to walk. The crowd was very happy, cheering, and singing right on the beach. The beach itself was also very crowded. We made it to a hill and I took very nice pictures. Some minutes later we got hungry and went to Pizza Hut. Apparently Pizza Hut is rather expensive and of good quality in Brazil. My buddy chatted up two Brazilian couples that were sitting next to us. They were extremely nice to us and gave us pizza for free. NOSSA! I feel that Brazil is very about sharing. While in Canada people are relatively rich, they seem to care mostly about their own business. In contrast, in Brazil people are not as rich, yet they share a lot. I find the latter culture definitely more appealing.
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Sunday night was the time for me to meet my Portuguese pen-pal. Whom? Long story short, I knew a girl  who was helping me a lot with Portuguese. On the Internet she seemed nice and I know she badly wanted to see me in person. I had no doubt that she is very smart. Naturally, I wanted to find out who she really is. We were chatting a lot on the Internet and it was obvious that she liked me a lot. She also planned a lot of stuff to do, so I couldn’t resist meeting her. I must say that she looked really great in person and had a very charming smile.

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Right away we went to a Carnaval party. I met there her friends and really enjoyed the night. Everyone was very nice to me. Perhaps all the people at the party knew I was a gringo. The party was very like Polish village weddings. Very fun and lighthearted with a lot of dancing.

 

Monday

We started the day with going to Alambique with the new friends. I didn’t even have a breakfast and was already served cachaça, wine, and jurupinga from a local artisan. The countryside was really beautiful with lots of green hills. We also visited local farmers where I got a coconut cream and Amarula. We then headed to a store to buy stuff for churrasco, BBQ. We spent the whole day at a friend’s house. Similarly to my trip to Aruba, I figured out that the people here really like each other. They do enjoy spending time together. No beer pong is necessary, not even a flip cup. Just good conversations. Obviously, I couldn’t follow all the convos, because of my poor Portuguese. On the other hand, they didn’t speak Polish, and only few people spoke English. It was enough to find a common language.

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Tuesday
In the morning we went to a market with fresh fruits and vegetables. It was my Portuguese pen-pal, her two friends, and myself. I got a chance to try açaí, which was very sweet ice-cream. The pen-pal was taking really good care of me. Afterwards, we spend most of the day on an off-road trip to Pedra Grande Atibaia. It’s a huge hill made of a single stone. The view from there is breathtaking. Lots of people were parachuting, gliding, and para-gliding. As the evening was approaching we headed first to a churrasco at a friend’s place and then to the club to enjoy the Carnaval night.
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Wednesday
Early morning I had to work on my publications. Yep, sometimes I need to work when I’m away. It’s a small price for being able to explore new country. In the afternoon we went to Sao Paulo. The trip was unplanned but I did my best to meet up with other friends there. Unfortunately, my phone stopped working. The best I could do was posting comments on Facebook from a friend’s phone. It’s a lame method and in the end it didn’t work out. We spent most of the night in a snack bar. The night was very calm and it ended up pretty quickly.

 

Thursday
We went to a local park with my Portuguese pen-pal. The park is beautiful and very green. It is big enough to explore for an hour or two. When we got back from the park, I bought a coconut. I absolutely love coconut water. We had no tools to open it, so I used a knife. I stabbed the coconut and was hitting it on the ground. The coconut was very tough. I wasn’t careful enough and cut my finger. A bit of blood showed up, but nothing serious. I was desperate to open the coconut and eat its flesh. The moment of glory came and I opened the bastard!
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When traveling, people ask me to send postcards. It took me a while to find some postcards and to write something nice. I even managed to write one of the postcards fully in Portuguese. NOSSA!
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As it was getting darker, we went to the bar. We met more friends of my Portuguese pen-pal. The night was rather slow, but I’m always in search of adventures. One of the guys suggested going to a sertanejo party. I can never say no to such parties, because I have never seen them outside Brazil. I decided to go but my pen-pal stayed at the bar. She said that we need to wake up early tomorrow for a parachute jump. Yes, I left her at the bar and went to the party. I thought she would be cool with that, because I’m, perhaps, the biggest Polish fan of sertanejo parties. I didn’t realize that leaving this girl at the bar could be so disastrous. The sertanejo party wasn’t bad. The band played some of my favorite songs. The club was full of girls. Apparently more girls attend the sertanejo parties than guys. I can’t complain about it. I came back home around 5am, jumped over the fence, and slept for only 2 hours.

 

Friday
As I woke up I knew the things were going weird. My pen-pal was playing it cool, but I intuitively knew that something was wrong. It was very similar to how we split my Brazilian ex-girlfriend a while ago.

 

me: Let’s be reasonable and tell me what’s wrong.
she: Everything’s fine!
me: Sure?
she: Sure! Don’t worry.

 

Well, what can I do. I can’t read thoughts and can’t make the other person speak when they don’t want to. Anyways, an hour later we met her friend and were driving several hours to a parachute site. My pen-pal arranged the jump a long time ago as a gift for me. I was totally thankful. The plane took us up to the altitude of 4km.
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The jump itself is a great experience. I wasn’t nervous at all. I was jumping as the last person and saw all the people jumping out of the plane. It’s unbelievable how quickly they disappear from the horizon. We were sitting at the edge of the plane for about 3 seconds:

 

the instructor: 3… 2… 1… Let’s go!
me: Bring it on! WOOOHOOOOO

 

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First, you free-fall for 45 seconds. The wind blows strongly into your face and you feel that you have little control over the direction. The 45 seconds feel pretty long. Then suddenly the parachute opens and you feel strong tension all over your body. The free-fall is over. Now you’re just calmly floating. The instructor let me steer the parachute. You can turn left, turn right, and slow down the speed. You can also land precisely on the ground. I was extremely happy after the first jump.

 

We were driving back for several hours to the house. The atmosphere in the car was pretty weird. Most of the talking was done in Portuguese and I was unable to follow the convo. Obviously, I later wanted to talk about it. I’m always into resolving problems, instead of making them get out of control. Minor problems are a waste of time.

 

me: Tell me, what’s the problem. You didn’t talk much to me today.
she: There is no problem. Don’t worry. It’s just we were with my best friend.
me: Sure? You know, if it’s the last night, I’m sorry.
she: No, don’t worry. Everything’s good.

 

OK, I’ve got experience in handling drama girls, but come on, I’m in Brazil for only one more day! Why to lie that everything is good, while it’s not? I then said that I want to go to Sao Paulo to visit my friends. She said that I should stay and that we will drive somewhere the next day. Think about it, though. Wouldn’t you trust a person who books you a parachute jump? As it turned out later, I was lied to about plans for the next day…

 

In the evening I was getting ready for the next sertanejo party. She said many times she’d take me there. Obviously, that didn’t happen. She kept saying how she likes rock music now. Cute. Instead, I went out with other friends to the party and it was really great. I was slowly learning how to dance but there is still a long way to go.
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Saturday

I woke up pretty late after the party and didn’t know much what was going on. People were speaking mostly in Portuguese. I then was taken to a churrasco party. I thought it would be just an hour and then we move on. The day before I heard about completely different plans. Uncool. Although I enjoyed practicing my Portuguese and meeting the people there, the churrasco prevented me from going to Sao Paulo. Don’t get me wrong. The churrasco people did their best to make me feel welcome. I am really grateful for that! Unfortunately, everyone was misinformed about my plans for Saturday. No one besides my pen-pal knew that I wanted to visit my friends in Sao Paulo. I was picked up from the party at night and failed my friends in Sao Paulo. I know that one of them even planned a day for me and became very sad that I didn’t show up. What can I say? Not much. Probably I can only blame myself for not pushing my plans too hard. I don’t have any bullshit excuses.

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Sunday
Early morning my pen-pal picked me up with her friends and took to the airport. I was noticeably annoyed by the previous day. I felt like being manipulated. That was the unhappy ending of my overall very happy trip. In any case, I’m still grateful to my pen-pal for taking good care of me and providing a lot of fun. No hard feelings on my side.

 

Besides the minor accident, I enjoyed Brazil a lot. Maybe even too much. I think it’s an awesome country with really really great and friendly people. Brazilians love their country. I heard it so many times: I’ve never traveled anywhere outside Brazil, but I think that Brazil is the best. I had 10 fantastic days and one less fantastic. Anyways, mama, there is no time for the drama. Lessons learned: 1) trust people, but not too much; 2) make your plans very clear to others and if they are not helpful, push harder. To those whom I couldn’t visit: I’m sorry. Update: some people misinterpreted my post. Probably because the wording was unfortunate. I rewrote some paragraphs to make it clear that I am very thankful and consider the trip a huge success. I underlined some phrases to explicate that my pen-pal did a great job and took a great care of me. Thank you!

Aruba: One Happy Island

aruba

I was looking for a nice summer destination for Christmas holidays. I had never been to Caribbean so this region was of particular interest. There are quite a few islands and all of them look charming in the pictures. Imagine this: beautiful beach with powdery white sand, palm trees, temperature over 30C, tropical cocktails, and sun all day long. Tempting, isn’t it? I read reviews of various islands and finally picked Aruba. It got fantastic reviews, it has a decent nightlife, merges Dutch, Latino, and American cultures, and is very safe. It is a 30 km long island located in the very south of Caribbean. I thought I have give it a try!

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intro_palms


Thursday

Fast forward to Dec 20, I was on my way to Aruba. Finding cheap accommodation in Aruba is a challenge! For the first few nights I had a reservation in a guesthouse. Later, I was hoping to find a CouchSurfing host, or, in the worst case, was ready to sleep on the beach. Rienke, the owner or the guesthouse, promised to pick up Barbara (another guest) and myself from the airport. When I landed, I had to wait 20 minutes in the immigration line. Finally, I got the Arubian stamp in my passport and heard “Bon bini!” from the officer. I was happy that they didn’t ask any questions. In particular, where I’m going to sleep.
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At the airport we had to wait for Barbara, because her flight was delayed. In the meantime I got hungry and we went to the nearby restaurant. Outside the airport I instantly felt hot air all around me. As if someone moved me from a freezer to the oven. I ordered Dutch croquettes and sushi. The croquettes are crunchy and go well with beer. The sushi was less impressive. An hour later we finally made it to the guesthouse. I took a dip in the pool and we went to the dinner with other guests. Who was there? Two former US Army soldiers (Taylor and Brandon), and two Scandinavian girls (Lisa and Aino). No dinner can be completed without wine, so around 9pm we decided to head to the beach and drink some wine. The ex-soldiers turned out to be very cool and knowledgeable guys. They said how the night before they sneaked into Marriott to enjoy the hot tub. I’m very adventure-driven, so the convo went like that:

 

me: No way, guys! Let’s go there!
Brandon: Let’s do it!

 

Several minutes later we were all in a hot tub enjoying the beauty of the resort and colorful waterfalls. Some American girls approached us. I reckon that they were a bit drunk. I jokingly asked if they can impress me and stand on their hands. Guess what? One of them showed off her skills and she was standing on her head for the whole minute! The first night in Aruba was already entertaining. The adventure was on.

 

Friday
How is it to work when you’re tempted to go to the beach? It’s not so bad. I promised that I’ll keep working on my research paper because I’d like to finish it ASAP. I kept working for the whole day. The afternoon was sunny again and I went to the beach to take some pictures. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the sun. The sky started getting reddish at 6:30pm. That was the time to take pictures of the sunset over the sea. I must say that the view was breathtaking.
fri_sunset_beach fri_sunset_bird
After these visual pleasures I came back to the guesthouse, met the fellow guests, and we hit the bars. The nightlife in Aruba seemed very laid back. There were lots of Dutch and Latino people, which I really liked. I knew it before but this time I rediscovered one fact: Dutch girls have really big breasts. Not a bad combination with blond hair. Anyways, Aruba is a very interesting mix of cultures: Dutch + Latino + some American influence. One bar was particularly good and we stayed there until it closed.
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Saturday
The day didn’t start very well. It was raining the whole morning. I thought it was a great time to do some work and to write postcards. It took me two hours to handle all the postcards. I got a tons of requests from people who wanted a postcard from Aruba. Then, I kept working until early evening. When the sun set, we met with Rienke, the Scandinavian girls, and ex-soldiers and went to a live show on a luxurious cruise ship Freewinds. The show was of high quality and gave us  a glimpse into world music. We finished the night enjoying wine and conversations.
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Sunday

What a day! The ex-soldiers told me that they’re renting a jeep to explore the island. I thought it was a fantastic idea and really wanted to join the party. We visited several sites, such as the restaurant ZeeRover that served fresh wahoo fish, and Baby Beach. Our main goal was to go to the Arikok National Park. We were ready to check out the local flora and fauna.

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But what the hell? As we got to the park, it started raining! Seemed like a very heavy rain that should pass within a minute or two. How heavy was the rain? Well, within a five-second jog all my clothes were as wet as if someone poured a bucket of water on me. Fortunately, we could stay in the visitors center for a while. The center kicked us out at 5pm as they were closing.

 

me: Guys, what do we do?
Taylor: Well, let’s go back to our place. It won’t get better.

 

The guys wrapped all the stuff in towels and put into backpacks to protect cameras, phones, etc. We ran back to the jeep realizing that it is all wet, because we had no top! The car was full of water. We had no other choice. We had to drive back to the guesthouse. The heavy rain continued for two hours and the streets were flooded. At the beginning I was kinda chill due to cold wind. The ex-soldiers were actually enjoying the ride! Every time we got into a pound, the water splashed, and got into the car.
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Everyone was completely wet and the guys kept yelling “Wooohoooo!” and loudly laughing at the situation. Exactly as in the Hollywood movies about soldiers. It’s the kind of moment when you think to yourself “I wish it sucked more!“. You cannot be any more wet, so let’s enjoy the ride! When we got back to our place, Rienke offered us hot tea and coffee.

 

me: Guys, let’s go to the Marriott to the hot tub!
Brandon: Sounds like a good idea!

 

They both were down, and so we went to relax a bit and to swim in the sea. Later, we traditionally hit the town and explored bars and nightlife.

 

Monday
The Scandinavian girls, ex-soldiers, and myself went to the beach. It was a perfect day for swimming in clear water, for exploring the hotel areas, and for chilling in a spa place. It was also the day of changing my accommodation. It was the day of CouchSurfing!
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I’m a big fan of CouchSurfing. When I look for a host, I typically judge each profile by recommendations, the number of friends, and the date of last login. I messaged all the 30 Arubians on CS. Unfortunately, most of those who got back to me were going on Christmas vacations. Fortunately, I got a positive reply from Elias. He only registered on CS and had completely empty profile. I thought that’s a chance to do CS in Aruba. Right away he seemed very helpful and said that can host me for the whole week. It sounded too good to be true! He called me that afternoon.

 

Elias: My friend, where are you?
me: I’m at the bus stop in front of Marriott. I’ll be in downtown in 20 minutes.
Elias: Hey, we’ve got a car! I’m going to pick you up! How can I recognize you?
me: Black t-shirt, blue jean shorts, black sneakers, and winter jacket.
Elias: See you soon!

 

His English was respectfully good as for someone who learned the language only by speaking with people on the street. On our way to his place I got some booze and food. Traditionally: vodka, ginger ale, and cucumber. It turned out that he has one of the top hair saloons on the island. The couch was waiting for me right in the hair saloon. How COOL is that?

 

mon_aruba_map mon_hair_saloon
It was the day of Christmas eve so we went to a dinner to his friends. It was fantastic! The people were of Latino and Arubian descent. One girl was from Serbia. I hardly ever see people hugging and kissing so much while having a conversation. That was an interesting experience. The dinner itself was delectable: I was offered a marinated wahoo fish, tamal, tiramisu with vanilla ice-cream, wine, and vodka. The house was very artistic and also hosted a number of animals: chickens, hens, turtles, dogs, Persian cat, and geese. I really enjoyed the meeting because everyone seemed extremely chill and they really liked spending time with each other. You know, in Canada parties typically end by 3 am. By that time everyone is gone and the party is over. Here? Felt more like Poland. We finished some time around 6am. Nobody was giving lame excuses and there was always something stimulating to talk about. An interesting fact that I learned was that people in Aruba speak multiple languages. Throughout the education they learn: Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish, and then either French of German. Many also speak Portuguese. Anyways, after we headed back, I was sleeping like a baby on a couch in the hair saloon.

 

Tuesday
The Boxing Day started lazily with a lunch at a Latino restaurant. I got churrasco with avocado sauce and jack chips. The weather was warm, sunny, and light breeze kept me cool. Elias, my CS host, took his car and we were exploring the island. Besides the beaches, we hit the north coast which hosts one of the symbols of Aruba: the California Lighthouse. It is located on the coast where the Caribbean sea is much more rough. No beaches, just rocky coast line. Two days ago it was raining heavily, so there was lots of water and mud on the coast. We were forced to drive off-road with a Nissan march. Quite an experience!
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In the afternoon we visited some more friends and got a lot of food for dinner. During the dinner I saw how strong bonds among Latino people are. Again, everyone was hugging, kissing, and touching each other. Something that in North America and some parts of Europe is recognized as sexual harassment… After the dinner we headed back to the hair saloon because Elias had a meeting scheduled with a client. That was one of the more unexpected things that happened during the trip. The lady invited us to the party full of Arubian ministers and business personalities! Although the party was pretty formal by design, I could not miss the opportunity to meet the local top politicians and businessmen. The party took place in a beautiful house with a swimming pool, colorful lights, live band, and Arubian classy atmosphere. Now, that’s COOL!
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Wednesday & Thursday
I woke up pretty early in my favorite hair saloon. The weather was still great so I decided to go for a walk along the beach and to explore downtown Oranjestad. Along the route I saw many roundabouts with Christmas decorations, shops, hotels, resorts, and a whore-house where I was personally invited by the mama.

 

mama: Fico, fico, sico, sico? Come in!

 

or something like that. The Latino music is all around the island. Salsa, merengue, bachata, you name it. Everywhere. I could hear it in the hotels, grocery stores, and on the beach. I think it mixes really well with the sunny weather and chill attitude. I needed to keep hydrated so I drank hectolitres of coconut water. I think it’s my new favorite non-alcoholic drink. It tastes best when comes from young coconuts. The water is inside, so you need to chop off a part of the coconut and put a straw inside. The water is kept in coconut flesh, a white edible part. It has a jelly texture and a mild taste. To eat this part you need to cut the coconut in half and scoop the flesh with spoon.
wed_coconut thu_iguana

 

Arubians were extremely friendly. While in North America I see tons of fake smiles (people smiling only with their mouth), here I got lots of genuine smiles (expressed both with mouth and eyes). Many drivers greet pedestrians with honking, waving their hands and smiling. No, it’s not because you’re walking wrong. During the two days I made around 50km on foot, which is not so bad as for a walk in 35C.

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Side note: this is the first trip on which I’m not using a deodorant. I found them ineffective in warm weather where I’m constantly doing something for 8-10 hours. On this trip I have been experimenting with baking soda. Strange, as it may sound, baking soda is a fantastic deodorant. It has no scent, doesn’t leave any marks, and keeps everything in shape for the whole day. You can buy baking soda in any grocery store for less than a dollar. Need some scent? Put on cologne and you’re good to go!
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Friday

Beach, wandering around, partying. A bird made a poo on me so I had to clean the shit.

Saturday

It was the day of picking coconuts from coconut trees. Learning how to climb the trees took me the whole day. For the night we headed to downtown Oranjestad. It seemed pretty empty at 1am. Taking that into account, we drove to Noord as more clubs and tourists are there. The town was pretty vibrant and I knew it would be a cool night. Do you remember the Scandinavian girls from the guesthouse? Unexpectedly, we ran onto each other in front of a club.

 

Lisa: Hey Kacper! What are you doing?
me: Hey! We just got here and are looking for a fun place.

 

We met the girls, Barbara (the girl whose flight was delayed), and some new friends. It was a pretty cool night, indeed. The group split and I was left with Lisa and Barbara. Barbara was giving us merengue lessons. It’s confirmed, Latino girls are amazing dancers. Nothing can beat their moves and the natural feel of rhythm. We also had some good conversations and I really liked the place. Everything was run in Spanish and the crowd was very lively. After the last call we went to grab a bite as both Lisa and me were hungry. We ordered 2 beers, 2 burgers, 1 fries, and 1 coke. I couldn’t believe that they charged $35 for that! Bastards. OK, the quality of meat was very good.

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It was some time after 3am and none of us was sleepy. We decided to go to the beach and hang out more. The sky was completely clear. We could see all the stars, the moon, and their reflections in the sea. Add Ai se eu te pego to that. Beautiful moment. The dream is over. Then I realized that I’m pretty far from my favorite hair saloon (10 km) and it was getting around 5am. My flight was around 4pm but I still needed some sleep. I wanted to get a cab and decided to check the number in the guesthouse (using the complimentary WiFi). Well, when I travel, things rarely happen according to the plan. Of course, I didn’t take any cab. Lisa helped me and kindly let me stay in the guesthouse. In the morning I somehow hitchhiked to the favorite hair saloon, got a short nap, and got my shit together.

Sunday
Writing this post and flying back for New Year’s Eve to Canada. Overall, Aruba was a wonderful experience: beautiful island, sunny weather, friendly people, CouchSurfing in a hair saloon, meeting with Aruba’s VIPs, decent nightlife, and coconut water. It doesn’t get any better. Highly recommended!

Travel, Learn, and Improve

papa

 

The one-week adventure is over! I finally found a lazy day to stay in bed and reflect a little bit on the recent trip. Together with Gzowski Club we went on a whirlwind tour around Europe. Within 9 days we visited Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Prestwick), Poland (Bydgoszcz, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Katowice, Sosnowiec, Krakow, Wieliczka), Spain (Girona, Barcelona), and Portugal (Lisbon). Wherever we went we heard something along the lines: you guys are ridiculous… but you are fun!

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What was the goal of the trip? Besides the cultural exploration of Europe we wanted to experience the vibe of Eurocup 2012 – one of the largest events in the whole world. The trip was a great opportunity to meet old friends and to make new friendships. Everyone we met was extremely open, friendly, and added value to our trip. Guess what? We even received gifts! You’ll find more details about the trip on Gzowski Club’s website. This entry is my personal perspective on the journey. It is about new lessons I learned from traveling:

  • Travel light. That was my first time when I traveled overseas with only hand luggage. Total weight? Somewhere around 6kg. Still, some of the clothes remained unused. Do you need more? Doubtful. Get rid of all the crap that is not essential. Traveling light is much more convenient and faster: no need to wait in check-in lines, no extra charges, smaller chance of forgetting something. What if you find some cool stuff on the way? If you cannot pack it, just ship it to home address! We shipped a 10kg parcel to Canada.
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    travellight

     

  • Laptop or smartphone? Unless you have to work, forget about your laptop. It weights too much and doesn’t add much to the trip. Take a smartphone if you have it. Typical applications that you need include Facebook, Couchsurfing, Skype, maps, email, getting boarding passes, alarm, taking notes, checking schedules, and weather forecast. You can conveniently do all of that on a smartphone. If you need a computer for a while, you’ll find travelers who will help you.
  • Couchsurfing or hostels? I am a huge fan of CouchSurfing. I couchsurf whenever possible but at times a hostel is a better choice. Typically, it takes several days to find a person who can offer a couch. If time is of essence, choose a hostel or sleep on the beach. Also, if you like to party, you will find more people in hostels. Many hostels organize social events, such as dinners and pub-crawls. Occasionally, however, you’ll find exceptional CouchSurfing hosts who are more fun than tens of hostel guests!
  • Be social. Meeting people is fun. Especially if you meet travelers and open-minded people with cool interests. Before visiting a destination contact your friends, post your plans on Facebook, message people on CouchSurfing. Meet people in bars and wherever you go. In hostels, make international friends. Once you get into the hostel, talk to everyone. Travelers like to… travel. Take their contact as soon as possible, otherwise it may be too late.
  • Access to the Internet. Figure out in advance where free connection is available. Usually, you can count on McDonald’s, Starbucks, and public transit facilities. If you have time, search for local SIM cards with free/cheap access to the Internet.
  • Eurocup 2012. The event attracted hundreds of thousands of football fans to Poland and Ukraine. That was the biggest event I have ever participated in. It is amazing how the crowds change cities into different realities.
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  • Be flexible. About everything. Your flight may get delayed, your host may be away, your friend may have something urgent to do and can’t meet you, your alarm clock may not go off, etc. It’s not so much about having plan B, but about adjusting to the situation. Never have hard feelings. There is no reason to panic. Our flight got significantly delayed, we missed train stations, didn’t have accommodation, yet we always handled the situation.
  • Traveling is about giving and taking. When you meet others, add value to their lives. How? Offer a stimulating conversation, contribute to the party, come up with ideas for outings. Don’t be selfish, share whatever other people might need (especially international love). We brought a lot of swag from Canada and gave it away for free. No expectations, just bringing gifts for fun. We also received a lot from others: food, accommodation, drinks, gifts, help, and great times!
  • Don’t say fuck yeah. This is a funny one. I like saying fuck yeah when something is obvious to me. Avoid, however, saying this phrase to people whose English is not so good. They may understand that you said fuck you. Say hell yeah instead.
  • Remember about friends. Keep in touch with old and new friends. Send them an email, Facebook message, postcards, leave a souvenir. Everyone likes to know that you are thinking about them!

 

businesscard

 

This trip is over. Huge thanks go to people that we met. Everywhere! Check out our photos on Facebook! So what will Kacper do next? That’s unclear. Help him today to visit Caribbean!!!

Tips on Hunting for Cheap Flights

airplanefront
Original Photo by ArchDevil
The post on getting a free flight to Costa Rica received a lot of attention. It’s clear to me that many readers of this blog are interested in cheap flights. Recently I was looking for cheap flights to Brazil and Europe. I learned a lot and want to share some of the observations. I know that those tips are very effective. How effective? A year ago I visited USA, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Ukraine for the cost of a direct flight from Toronto to Warsaw. This year I’ll pay even much less for visiting Portugal, Spain, Poland,  France, and then going back to Canada. Update: I recently booked transatlantic flights: Toronto → Glasgow and Lisbon → Toronto for $273 in total! (a typical transatlantic return flight is 2-3 times more expensive) Convinced?
  • Searching for flights takes time. This is the key requirement. If you want to find a flight in a great price, you’ll have to do your homework and search multiple websites. Depending on how much $$$ you make per hour, it may be worth or not worth it. I’m a student so whenever I can save some money, I’m happy.
  • Your location and destination matter. Check out local airlines and deals. For example, if you are in Europe, you can fly from Barcelona to Rome for $30 (final price) with low-cost airlines. Similar deals are probably possible in other parts of the world, but Europe is pretty much unbeatable. Having said that, if you fly to Europe, get the cheapest flight to anywhere in Europe and then travel by low-costs inside. Update: if you fly between Toronto and Europe checkout Air Transat and Sunwing. They offer increadibly cheap flights!
  • Fly with low-cost airlines. Deals offered by low-cost airlines can be found only on their websites. You buy tickets directly from those airlines and there is no point in searching elsewhere. Find out where those airlines fly. I typically check airport information on Wikipedia to see what airlines go to places of my interest. Update: you can use WhichBudgetflycheaposkyscanner, and Fly4free (Polish) to search for destinations of low-cost airlines.
  • Check out multiple websites. If you cannot fly with low-cost airlines, check out traditional airlines on search engines like Kayak, Cheapoair, Expedia, and others. Compare prices with those shown on airlines’ websites. You’ll see that each website offers different price. Search with flexible dates and check nearby airports. Recently I’ve been playing with Matrix Airfare Search that can search for flights to/from multiple airports at once! Update: checkout Google Flights. Although limited (includes only certain airports), it is a fantastic website for analyzing how prices change over the year. Click the calendar icon.
  • Take advantage of travel agents. These days people tell you to book flights online. Generally, it’s a good idea but take a look at the deals offered by local travel agents. For example, Flight Centre has the Lowest Airfare Guarantee policy. It means that if you find a flight and their price is not lower, they’ll match the price and will offer you a $20 voucher. You think that $20 is nothing. Sure, it’s not much but it’s enough to fly with low-costs in Europe! Also, if you make travel agents match the price several times, the $20 multiplies. Update: a lot depends on the agent who sells you the ticket. Bargain and ask for student discounts whenever possible (even if it’s against their official policy).
  • Monitor prices. Did you know that the price of a ticket depends on when you book it? Monitor prices for a week or two to see when it’s best time book a ticket. How important is it? Well, I was looking for a flight from Paris to Toronto. One day it was $417, while the other day it was almost $600!
  • Sign up for crowdsourced deals. There are more people who look for deals and are glad to share them. A great example for Toronto area is the YYZ deals blog. Recently they found out how to fly to Europe for $338 (final price).
  • Get an ISIC card. International Student Identity Card can help you save money on food, air, train tickets, etc. In Canada it is offered by Travel Cuts and they have nice discounts (> 10%) if you have the card.
  • Travel off the season. This is probably the most common tip, but it totally makes sense. Find out when the season starts and ends for a given destination. For example, in Europe it is typically from June to August. In Caribbean it is from December to May. If you fly to Europe during the season, you are almost guaranteed to pay twice as much as off the season. Update: as Justin suggested, if possible, avoid flying during holidays. Prices are much higher than usually.
  • Take advantage of different currencies. Generally, it is best to use the currency of your credit card (to avoid possible exchange fees). Sometimes, however, it pays off to switch the currency. A year ago I saved $30 on switching from Canadian dollar to Icelandic krona when booking transatlantic flights between Europe and USA.
  • Find more websites with travel tips. This blog post is by no means complete. Google for more tips and share them with others!